1 Recent Developments in Asbestos Litigation Richard O. Faulk Chair, Litigation Department Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP Houston, Dallas, Austin, Mexico City
2 Do You Know This Man?
3 Dickie Scruggs: Mississippi Asbestos Lawyer
4 Dickie Scruggs: Mississippi Asbestos Lawyer Asbestos litigation is the endless search for the next solvent bystander. Accused and convicted of attempting to influence or secure judicial misconduct. Judge Glen H. Davidson imposed his sentence and quoted the Scottish philosopher William Barclay: The Romans had a proverb that money was like sea water. The more you drink the thirstier you become. In December 2012, a federal judge granted Scruggs' motion to be released from prison on bail pending his appeal of the 2009 conviction
5 Tort Reform Tort reform in some states has improved the asbestos litigation climate and reduced the caseload. Inactive dockets preclude litigation of cases unless true asbestos-related illness is shown. Has resulted in dismissal or abatement of millions of alleged asbestosis cases nationally. Also resulted in a relative increase in filings of cases involving malignancies, such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.
6 Tort Reform Ohio H.B. 380 Effective March, requires plaintiffs to disclose and account for settlements with asbestos bankruptcy trusts before trial. - creates presumption that materials disclosed are admissible evidence. - trial courts can order plaintiffs to file claims with trusts that were not filed previously.
7 National Trends: Migration of Dockets As the laws changed, and as the judiciaries in some states became more conservative, cases moved to other states. Texas, once home to one of the largest concentrations of cases, now has an extremely reduced docket. Federal asbestos litigation similarly reduced through inactive docket orders and consolidation in multidistrict proceedings. States that did not approve comprehensive asbestos litigation reform attracted more filings by forum shoppers e.g., New Jersey, New York, California, West Virginia, Delaware, etc.
8 National Trends: Lung Cancer The bulk of asbestos cases will continue to focus on malignancy claims. Non-malignancy cases will continue to decline. Increasing number of lung cancer claims. Alternative causes (e.g., smoking) are no longer deterring filing. Not all states bar recovery when alternative claims are not ruled out. Many reduce recovery for smokers on the basis of contributory negligence. For the defense, scientific advances in genetic testing can distinguish non-smoking and smoking lung cancers, but defendants must be prepared for motions to exclude the testimony as unreliable.
9 National Trends: Alternative Causes of Mesothelioma 10-20% of mesothelioma cases are not caused by asbestos exposure but other causes have been difficult to identify. Possible alternatives include genetics, carbon nanotubes, radiation, talc, vermiculite contaminated with eronite. Eronite is major focus. Known human carcinogen. Deposits in various states and more than 200 times more potent than asbestos. Tissue testing essential if available in cases pending in Western states like California, Arizona, Oregon.
10 National Trends: Alternative Diagnosis High-volume expert witnesses are being more closely examined by counsel who are allowed to spend the time to review their publications and clinical/pathological findings. Because of high verdict risks and potential exhaustion of insurance coverage, many companies are pressuring insurers to do more detailed discovery and more thorough research into medical records and experts. Asbestos pathologists, even the most experienced, make mistakes and may even miss diagnostic markers that rule out mesothelioma. Samuel Hammer, noted pathologist and regular plaintiffs causation witness, recently rejected by jury when he admitted that he misread diagnostic tests. Opinions actually contradicted his own textbook.
11 National Trends: Secondary Exposure Texas courts of appeal reverse verdicts for household exposure when risk was unknown to defendant at time of exposure. Alcoa. Inc. v. Behringer (Tex. App. Dallas 2008); ExxonMobil v. Altimore (Tex. App. Houston 2009). California appellate court reverses judgment because manufacturer had no duty to protect family members. Campbell v. Ford Motor Co. (2012).
12 National Trends: Recent Decisions Pennsylvania Supreme Court: - rejects any exposure to asbestos as causal. Betz v. Pneumo Abex, LLC, 44 A.3d 27, 56 (Pa. 2012). - accepts two disease argument for lung cancer and mesothelioma, allowing same plaintiff to recover in two cases for different diseases. Daly v. A.W. Chesterton, 27 A.3d 1175 (Pa. 2012)
13 National Trends: Recent Decisions California Supreme Court: - Rejects arguments that a valve manufacturer can be held liable for replacement parts containing asbestos that it did not manufacture or supply. O Neill v. Crane Co., 53 Cal. 4 th 335, 266 P. 2d (2012). - Shifts responsibility from manufacturers to component parts suppliers but not all states agree.
14 National Trends Summary: Good News Less total cases but more serious ones. Caseloads are migrating to more friendly states. More emphasis on medical issues in mesothelioma cases to challenge diagnosis and focus on alternative causes. Some progress in defeating secondary exposure claims in some states but situation remains unsettled in other jurisdictions. Major progress in defeating liability for manufacturers in cases where they did not supply or manufacture replacement parts.
15 National Trends Summary: Bad News It ain t over til it s over! -Yogi Berra
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